Review Date: May 30, 2003
Released by: Unearthed Films
Release date: 10/1/2002
Region 0, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
There are some videos that everyone seems to know about. The Faces of Death
series certainly comes to mind. Traces of Death
and Death Scenes
are not as well known, but sought out nonetheless. Then there is the Guinea Pig series. Since its origin is from Japan, many gore loving fans have discovered this underground series, showing the overly worn VHS copies only to their most 'privileged' friends. Unearthed Films has brought this series to the surface, giving fans double feature DVD's and more exposure to the gore fest. Mermaid in the Manhole
and He Never Dies
are showcased on this release. Are they worth your time or should they not have been unearthed? Only your tolerance for gore and a nifty review can answer that question.
Since this is my first review of an Asian horror film, I feel it is my duty to remain true to the culture. The following review is written in Japanese. For the courtesy of those who don't speak the language, I have subtitled it in English.
Mermaid in the Manhole
is a simple story about an artist and his mermaid. Mr. Hayashi (Shigeru Saiki) routinely heads down to the sewer to find inspiration for his passion of art. As a child he played in the same area. He remembers the spot as a river complimented by a beautiful landscape rather than the sight it has become. The years have not been kind to the land as his childhood memories are replaced by tainted water, dumped garbage, and the filth of a forgotten area. While in the sewer the artist comes across a mermaid (Mari Somei). She happens to be the very mermaid who made contact with him years ago, only now she is ill from the conditions of the land. Having recently lost his wife, Mr. Hayashi, openly welcomes the mermaid into his house. She will provide inspiration for his art as he attempts to nurse her back to health. Avoiding the watchful eyes of his neighbors (Masami Hisamoto & Tsuyoshi Toshishige), the artist's childhood dream quickly turns into a dreadful nightmare. He vows to paint the mermaid before she dies, but his obsession with art may lead him to paint outside the lines of reality.
Mermaid in the Manhole
plays out like a grotesque version of The Twilight Zone
. The unfortunate case with this movie is its dependency on shock and gore to push the story along. Nearly the entire film runs in a rather simple and dull cycle. Man paints mermaid, mermaid suffers from hideous sores, man nurses mermaid, and nosy neighbors question man. This is the majority of the movie, repeated with the sores on the mermaid gradually getting worse. The monotonous tone had me counting down the minutes, waiting for the credits to roll. The shock value really wasn't there for me. I knew coming into the movie that it would be graphic, so it really wasn't a surprise when I saw it onscreen. Mermaid in the Manhole
certainly provides its fair share of 'scenery' for those looking for gross out the in-laws. Think of the following words for a moment -- worms, puss, blood, festering sores, vomit, and slime. Now these words may be repugnant to some, and the sight of any of these may lead some viewers to turn their head in disgust. The simple fact is, regardless of how unpleasant these things may be, it doesn't necessarily make them interesting for forty minutes. To its credit Mermaid does have a payoff in the end. I had doubts about the direction of the film, and it was a welcome surprise to see that there was actually a point to the story. The ending managed to remove the bitter taste left in my mouth from the rest of the film. If you are the type who can excuse a burnt dinner and poor service because a particular restaurant offered a flavored toothpick at the end of the evening, then you will find Mermaid in the Manhole
worth an hour of your time.
Our second tale is titled He Never Dies
. The story is told by Rick Steinberger as a sort of public announcement. He discusses issues that have baffled scientists for years and lets us know that there is one more to add to the list. "A tale that is unexplainable as it is horrible…..This film is based on fact." I found the intro humorous as it is spoken in English, dubbed in Japanese, and subtitled in English (with the text not really matching up to the words of Mr. Steinberger).
Hideshi (Masahiro Sato) is the guy in the office who can't seem to fit in. His boss is always riding him, his colleagues are dumping their work on him, and to make matters worse, his girlfriend Kyoko (EVE) has left him for his friend Nakamura (Keisuke Araki). He wants to slit his wrists, but it hurts too much to go through with the suicide. Upon his return to work, his continually bad day prompts him to just stop going. After a few days, he realizes that none of his co-workers have even called to see if he is alright. Hideshi hits a new low and manages to push through the pain and dig deep into his wrist. After a few seconds the pain subsides and Hideshi is left dumbfounded. He quickly realizes that he cannot die, so he decides to play a twisted joke on Nakamura by utilizing his newfound immortality.
Writer/director Masayuki Kuzumi has given us a tale that, despite the over the top gore, is fairly easy on the eyes. Borrowing from the likes of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, Kuzumi blends his humor and bloodshed creating a unique viewing experience. Hideshi is a likable character who is basically a man with super powers. Unlike Wolverine from the X-Men, Hideshi doesn't have the luxury of fast healing wounds, just the uncanny ability to live with them. Of course, Hideshi decides to see how far he can really take things by cutting, slicing, and dismembering himself. He sees the oddity as a breath of fresh air on an otherwise bleak existence. What fun is this discovery if you cannot share it with others? In typical 'guy' manner, Hideshi's decision to prank Nakamura is classic. Without a care in the world, Hideshi goes to the extreme levels that a man would go to freak out a friend. His decisions get more and more outrageous, taking the film to uncharted and disturbing levels of humor.
There is a glaring difference between the style and presentation of the two movies. While both utilize gore and mutilation throughout the films, Mermaid feels more like it is forced on us. We have no connection with the Mermaid, so her suffering loses a lot of its impact. In movies like I Spit on your Grave
, we understand (albeit, not 100%) the reality of rape and being victimized. I doubt anyone reading this has seen or been a mermaid, so the impact of her pain is not quite as intense. It was also hard to sympathize with the artist. Having lost his wife, you'd think he would be more compassionate about not losing another woman; however, he bounces back and forth painting and nursing her wounds. Sometimes, he seems concerned about her health and other times he seems to be oblivious. All in all, the film's central theme seems to be suffering.
With He Never Dies
, we are given a story that everyone can relate to. Rejection and loneliness are issues that people deal with in everyday life; Hideshi decides that death is his only solution. When he realizes he cannot die, the movie shifts from a tale about despair to one that showcases revenge (another element that viewers can relate to). With He Never Dies
, we are given a different approach. Rather than simply torture victims as Terry and friends did in Last House on Dead End Street
, we are given more of an Evil Dead
approach. The film couples the gory scenes with humor. Hideshi's revenge tactics are more like a twisted joke rather than sadistic torture. This helps lighten the mood, keeping viewers interested even through the closing credits. It is this cartoonish approach that shows us that excessive gore can help move a story along without alienating the viewer's interest.
Both features are presented in a Full Frame, 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Shot on video, the films understandably never obtain the polished look that a feature film can provide. The subtitles are easy to read throughout both features and are not distracting to the viewing experience.
Mermaid in the Manhole
bounces around quite a bit with its look. The paintings, brought to life by artist/director Hideshi Hino, are spectacular. The works of art are sharply filled with a full palette of color, providing shades of beauty in a story filled with nauseating gore. Some shots of the mermaid are fuzzy and blurred and the overall look of the picture is a bit soft. The film is lit well overall, but some of the darker scenes contain compression artifacting.
He Never Dies
is on par with a student film. The locations are fairly basic and the majority of the film takes place in one area. The overall look of the movie is decent, if not a tad dark. Colors are not as vibrant as I would like, but given the nature of its video origins it is excusable.
Each of the movies are presented with a Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack. The sound is very good with even the smallest of sounds coming in clear. Dialogue is at a great level throughout both features, giving Mermaid a 'soap opera' feel in the acting category. Pops, hisses, and cracks are non factors as the soundtrack is free of blemishes.
Music is a factor in both films. Mermaid has more of a traditional score, setting an eerie mood throughout the film. As we get closer to the climax of the movie, the soundtrack takes tips from the slasher films and uses a different style to build suspense. He Never Dies
has fun, sometimes goofy, music to compliment its humorous tone. The music never tries too hard and maintains the atmosphere well. If there is ever a doubt, the soundtrack all but screams out, “Don't take things so seriously!!"
Beginning with an onscreen 17 page history, chronicling the Guinea Pig
series, our supplements seem extensive. The essay is in depth, explaining the purpose of the videos and their enormous success in the Japanese market. Chas. Balun, Deep Red editor/publisher and major player in bringing the series stateside, even has a piece in the essay. He clears up some misconceptions and gives his own unique insight to the public outburst that resulted from the tapes. The essay is highly informative and an excellent addition to those questioning the history and validity of the series.
There are also five trailers included on the disc. They are for Devils Experiment
(1:03), Android of Notre Dame
(2:25), Mermaid in the Manhole
(2:33), Flower of Flesh and Blood
(1:12), and The Making of Guinea Pig
(1:10). There are no English subtitles, but the dialogue in these trailers is minimal. The trailer for Flower of Flesh and Blood was very cool. It was short, simple, and graphically to the point. I am not sure if I will see this movie, but the trailer certainly has an impact.
Rounding out the supplements are the still galleries. In one gallery, we have stills from Mermaid in the Manhole
(12) and Devils Experiment
(6). The other gallery shows pictures from He Never Dies
(11) and Android of Notre Dame
(4). The stills showcase scenes from the film, behind the scenes shots, and VHS covers. The galleries do not require the use of a remote control as the pictures are slowly showcased one at a time. It seems that Unearthed Films is trying to apologize to the fans for releasing their first Guinea Pig
DVD without any supplements by including extras for Devils Experiment
and Android of Notre Dame
in this set.
Unearthed Films double feature of Mermaid in the Manhole
and He Never Dies
gives viewers an odd dilemma. Can excessive gore be tolerated and enjoyable? While the two are total opposites in terms of story and mood, they both share extreme amounts of violence. The difference is Mermaid in the Manhole
seems to want viewers to suffer along with the central character, while He Never Dies
wants us to laugh with Hideshi. With a fairly high MSRP, I would recommend renting or borrowing this from a friend before spending your hard earned cash. Fans of the Guinea Pig
series and gore fanatics will find this disc a welcome addition to their collections.
Mermaid in the Manhole
Movie - D
Image Quality - C+
Sound - A-
He Never Dies
Movie - B+
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B+
Supplements - B-
- Running time - Mermaid in the Manhole - 63 minutes
- Running time - He Never Dies - 39 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo
- English subtitles
- Historical Background
- Theatrical Trailers
- Photo Galleries
- Motion Menu